One thing that I have committed to myself, again and again, is allowing each interest and each possible topic or “subject” in my children’s learning to have equal weight. In the education of my children, I agree with Sir Ken Robinson that creativity is as important as literacy.
Creativity can come into play in any area of learning. For most of us, it is when our minds are in a state of play that we are best able to learn and retain information.
In our home, sewing or drawing are considered just as important as reading or math. Yoga and dancing are equal to history or spelling. In short, if a child is interested in something, it matters.
This can be difficult when viewed through the lens of the outside world, where math, reading, and science trump art, dance, and music any day. As a parent, I have to constantly check myself and allow the natural creativity that my children feel to express itself.
For example: the other day, each of our girls were busy working on something different. One was working on a cross-stitch design. Another was working on math problems that she had asked me to write out for her. She had recently learned to “carry the one” and was excited to practice it more. Another child was reading. But our 9-year-old, our sweet 9-year-old…she is tougher. She isn’t interested in math right now. She likes to read, but not as much as our other girls. It’s often hard to feel that she is really “learning” like the others are. At that moment, she was playing on the iPad.
I looked around at the good things that the other girls were learning, and compared with those, doing something on the iPad seemed like such a waste of time. I started to panic inside a bit, worrying that she would never really buckle down and get good at math, or that she would never have the expansive love of literature that I do. I quickly told her to find something more worthwhile to do, something that would make her use her brain.
She looked up at me, crestfallen. It was only then that I truly saw her. I could tell by the look on her face that she had been deep in concentration and that I had broken a happy spell. I knew instantly that I had hurt her, because she had been “using her brain.” I looked at what she had been doing: she had been designing clothing on Toca Tailor. At first, I had thought, “Seriously? You can’t think of anything better to do?” But when I saw the look on her face, I could tell how much it meant to her and how into it she had been.
I noticed that as I had been watching my other girls, I had been constantly pouring out praise. “Good job on learning that new stitch! It looks awesome!” Or, “Wow, I can’t believe you got all of those math problems right! So smart!” Or, “You are reading so great! Keep going!!” But I hadn’t been saying anything to her.
I asked to see some of her designs (in this app, a child can capture an image of each design if desired). Shyly at first, she began to show me the different patterns and fabrics she had created, the different colors she had combined. Her designs had taken her time and were anything but a waste of time. She had painstakingly created just the right look and had altered sleeve styles and skirt lengths until she was happy. She had adjusted the width of stripes and the size of buttons. She had taken photos of beautiful colors around the house and had created fabrics from those photos.
(She has a real eye for colors. This “fabric” was made using some light she saw reflecting off of a toy of hers.)
I began to praise her, just as I had the other children, and she blossomed. I showed her that I took it seriously, that what she was doing was just as meaningful as her sister’s math facts.
She then showed me other things she had started, like creating worlds where her designs and models could interact with her dolls. She said she kind of wants to learn to do a stop-motion video that includes her dolls and her designs (wow!).
We need to be so careful in how we speak to our children and the value we place on their interests. We need to show them that what matters to them, matters to us. We just do not know where their interests will lead and what they are capable of. But if we quash or belittle their dreams, we may never find out.